Portal 2 is a joy to play. There is no other way to describe it. The original game was an interesting concept that Valve worked wonders with and the idea of them turning the sequel into a full game quickly became a mouthwatering prospect.
Of course there is always the potential for everything to go wildly wrong and many sequels suffer from trying too hard. Thankfully, Valve has never been a studio that is overburdened by the success of their previous titles as the build their sequels and so they really managed to build some excitement around Portal 2.
That excitement is certainly well-deserved as Valve has managed to grow the series far beyond the confines of the 9 hour campaign locked inside the pristine Aperture Test Centre.
It all begins with you being woke up as a test subject by Wheatley, a small system core controlling the stasis area where Aperture store's their test subjects when they are not being subjected to GlaDOS's rigorous testing sessions.
The game's riotous sense of humour kicks in straight away with Stephen Merchant providing the voice for Wheatley and delivering every dopey line with impeccable timing. He guide's you through the first portion of the game in a slapstic fashion until you accidentally revive the defunct GlaDOS. This brings up the discovery that you are the original test subject from the first Portal.
The vengeful AI immediately drops you back into the test centre to resume her routine of testing, passive aggressive actions and verbal abuse, heightened by the fact that, as she doesn't stop reminding you: "you killed me".
From there the story takes you on a wild ride of puzzles from the dilapidated bowels of the Aperture facility all the way back to the mainframe. It reveals some entertaining truths about the history of Aperture and GlaDOS with some more spot on voice acting from J Jonah Jameson actor J K Simmons as the voice of Aperture founder Cave Johnson.
You have no idea how ridiculously hard it is to write a review of Portal 2 without littering it with spoilers until you've played the single player mode through from start to finish. There are plenty of talking points and hefty puzzles to discuss, all perfectly constructed and polished to a perfect shine.
There is a beauty and simplicity to Portal 2 that is more than just an echo of the first game. As well as a solidly implemented physics system Valve has introduced several types of gel that allow you to traverse the puzzles of the broken down test facility where simply using the portal gun cannot. There is blue gel which acts makes you bounce and jump higher, red gel which helps you run faster and white gel which allows you to project your portals where you might not have managed before.
These all add extra dimensions to each of the puzzles and are introduced in such a subtle way that you'll find using them second nature without even remembering where you first came across the stuff in the first place.
The Source engine still has plenty of visual pop left in it and it really begins to shine when you drop deep beneath GlaDOS's domain into the old Aperture test facilities. The vertical draw distance, even on the Xbox 360 is something to behold and there is not a jagged edge in sight unless it is supposed to be there.
The controls are also a picture of simplicity, with Valve merely refining and adjusting the responsiveness of the original control scheme from the Orange Box. One trigger for each portal type, jump and use mapped to the face buttons and the right bumper adding the ability to zoom in a bit on distant objects and all you will need aside from the twin thumbstick movement and look controls to circumnavigate Aperture's most fiendishly ingenious tests yet. No additions were necessary this time around although you may find that, at some points in the game, you will be carrying a passenger...
Portal 2 also introduces multiplayer into the equation with a very robust two-player co-op. This gives players the opportunity to take on some of GlaDOS's most challenging puzzles yet as two droids armed with a portal gun each meaning the four portals and a whole lot more cunning is required to make it to the end, not to mention lots of shouting into your headset or at your mate sitting next to you on the sofa.
Having not released a game in almost two years, Valve had to come out with something special and Portal 2 really hits the spot. There is an almost immeasurable amount of polish on this game and we should expect nothing less from the developer that brought us Half-Life 2. Playing Portal 2 is fun beyond comparison delivering an experience unlike any other available in gaming. Complete the single player mode and you will most certainly feel smarter for it, not to mention laugh your socks off in to the bargain.
Portal 2 is not only the feel good hit of the summer but the feel good hit of the year.